A slowly dying man will show you
his new, gentle attention,
a posed thoughtfulness, which will shape his mind
as he passes through death. But this temperament
is alien to you, and to him, and you must not
address it directly.
He has given away his extra flesh
to the charities of darkness.
You are details eating like strong soap
into his eyes. He has no buffer
against your need to comfort him,
his skull seems to be breaking toward you
through his face, but that too
is a false demeanor, which you must not
address. You must approach him as you would
someone you have lied to,
or someone you have gifted beyond
reason. You must wait for him
to lift his hands
in a vague gesture reserved for enraptured priests,
bidding you to come,
letting you feel in his wrongly shaped chest
his pulse squeezed and thinned by tumors,
his lungs clutched like a balloon
a child has fallen against.
What he calls spasms are labor pains.
What you think is his pallor
is the broken water
of his grave, washing him slowly into the earth.
His sweat is the caul of the seer
shutting down. He will not transform
to wax or plaster for you,
nor turn you away from his horror.
He is an infant feeling the vague drama
of his mother’s life through
a scrim of stretched flesh,
before the forces
beyond itself take hold
and deliver it out against any will.
I dream I can heal him
by touching him, because I contain
an excess of the battles with many deaths,
which I transmit by resting my hand
on his tumor, making it glow hot and
golden in the shape of his diaphragm,
dissolving the cells into a protein,
which will feed him from inside,
a little Eucharist of waste, an abortion of the
fore life, but he will not finish
as a living man. He is becoming heavy
with earth, sinking into the furniture of his house,
he is laying his life into
the bodies of his friends the way
they lay their hope away in him.
He has stopped trying to remember things
because memory has taken him over,
occupying all the gaps leaving no room
for change, like a comb, laying him flatter
and finer against the skull
of the Earth. We try to say things
of a weight to match his weight,
but he answers out of his lightness, he
speaks for the dead, but with the words of
the simply tired or bored,
as if the moment of death
will be some accident, some crash inside him,
the components of his spirit abandoning
the grasp of the mourners, the
pall never real, the last second
never quite accumulating its precision,
the hands never quite
getting through.